“We had no choice, child”
The German House is a novel about a young woman who is a professional translator in 1960s Germany. She is called in to translate for a trial for World War II war criminals.
“Because that’s where evil lurks.”
As the story opens, Eva Bruhns is waiting for her boyfriend to arrive at her parents’ restaurant for a first introduction. There’s a complicated backstory for her parents and Jurgen, her boyfriend. All goes well and they seem on the path to marriage. Then she gets a call about the trial.
Through the trial, Eva keeps having moments of deja vu. She really doesn’t have anyone to discuss her emotions while translating horrific concentration camp testimony. She attempts to tell Jurgen, after they’ve become engaged, but he won’t listen and even tries to forbid her from working on the trial. Yet she feels compelled to help the Polish witnesses give their stories and find justice.
“Consolation. They want us to console them.”
You can’t have a novel about post-Holocaust Germany without a discussion of German complicity. This book is by a German writer, translated into English. There is even a character who believes the stories from concentration camps are greatly exaggerated.
In the end, as with any WWII historical fiction, there were immensely difficult passages in the book that are frankly horrifying because they’re 100% based in fact. There are interesting parallels to today, while the setting is many decades ago, it’s not clear the question of how to actively resist has been answered yet. This book doesn’t give an answer (who can?) but it does make you think about how to be a good person when surrounded by evil.